Alfred Health's Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Centre opened at Caulfield Hospital in September 2014 and the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) has been there every step of the way to support new research that promises to advance care for patients, like 29-year-old Diego Mercado.

The driving forces behind rehabilitation research at the Centre are researchers like Associate Professor Natasha Lannin, from La Trobe University and Alfred Health, and staff at the Centre such as Katrina Neave, Nurse Manager. Their desire to make interventions for people with Acquired Brain Injury even better, allowing many more people to resume the activities they did before they had the injury. This is inspirational research and both say their motivation comes from the patients who will benefit from the research. Patients like Diego Mercado. 

Diego Mercado sits at the desk in the gym of the ABI Rehabilitation Centre at Caulfield Hospital. He is a very charismatic, funny and interesting young man. Diego is a Colombian born chef and his passion for all things food along with life is infectious. He migrated to Australia six years ago and works casually as a chef at the Convention Centre.

Diego needs rehabilitation following a motor vehicle accident resulting in multiple injuries including a Traumatic Brain Injury and several broken bones. The accident left him in a coma at the Alfred Hospital for a week. His accident happened late last year and his rehabilitation and recovery from very serious injuries - but still he is able to say that "it has been amazing."

"I owe so much to the Centre," he explains. "they have looked after me so well, both physically and psychologically…  Their excellence is beyond describing… It's this facility, the experience staff have with brain injury patients, it's the input from specialists like orthopaedic doctors, physios or ophthalmologists… My recovery is due to a little bit of everything here looking after me a little bit every day."

Diego was interested in his rehabilitation and recovery from the outset. "Everything is explained so clearly to me, it means the medical terminology does not stop me from knowing my progress and treatment," he says. "They say you need to learn to use your left hand and I know that I will work hard to do this and I will do it."  

It is hard not to get caught up in his passion for food when he starts to talk about his work. He sees returning to work as a good goal to focus on towards getting the best recovery possible. "I love my work and when I came to Australia I loved working here. My goal is to get back to work - I can't wait! In fact, I organised a lunch for the rehab team and they loved my food so much they invited the other hospital staff over to try it… a business opportunity here I think!"

Positivity is Diego's philosophy. He tells us, "I have been lucky that from day one, I have had a positive outlook. Don't get me wrong this is not an easy thing to go through and right now this is the hardest time of life. My reaction is telling myself 'Diego do something positive' or 'get active Diego.' Challenge accepted, I say."

The model of care at the Centre requires patient's families to be actively involved in supporting rehabilitation and recovery. Diego's mother Marlene flew over from Colombia and had to raise funds quickly to afford the airfare to Australia. Diego is so appreciative of the support which his mum and he have been shown by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC), which reimbursed her. 

Diego admits, "If it wasn't for TAC, our situation would be quite difficult. I am amazed at all the help and support available through the TAC. I had no one here and having my mum here has given me great support emotionally and for my morale."

In the early days following Diego's accident, it was unclear how well he would recover from his serious and traumatic injuries. "I was in a coma for a week," he says, "And when I woke up from the coma, the first thing I saw was my mother." Once he woke up he then faced a long rehabilitation process that would be both physically and emotionally gruelling. 

Today he is seeing the benefit of two months of intensive support and therapy. "I love getting homework. The more the better! I don't just want to do what I need to do when I am in the gym or with my physio or speech therapist…when I get back to my room I keep practicing and that positive attitude helps me get through the day and get better."

Patients and their families are made aware of the role research plays at the Centre and they often are required to input as part of it. When asked about how research is part of how the Centre works Diego said, "This place is unbelievable, to think it exists is amazing, that I have had this help, that this support is here for people in Victoria. To think about all the people who make it happen I understand research lines the path to make places like this possible."

La Trobe University and Alfred Health researcher, A/Prof Natasha Lannin said for people living with acquired brain injury, rehabilitation offers a lifeline. "Regular audit gives us a 'true' feedback loop and makes the research-based model of care work so well," Natasha explains. "There is constant evaluation behind all that we are doing and this helps patients and their families feel confident in the care they receive and are prepared when discharge comes around.

"The new service is unique as research is embedded in the model of care and, importantly, clients and their families are an integral part of making the rehabilitation work. Staff have an interest in research, some are doing PhD's and many come up with their own research projects."

Centre nurse manager, Katrina Neave said feedback is always timely - especially suggestions for how we can do better.  "Staff are learning new ways to improve the outcomes for patients, like Diego. The model has galvanised our interdisciplinary team to embrace improvements, and to continuously adjust our clinical practice … Our motto is all care is everybody's responsibility."

Natasha continues, "Research will always play, a vital role in how we advance care for people with acquired brain injury. The Alfred Health ABI Rehabilitation Centre at Caulfield Hospital presents a unique opportunity, in a purpose-built environment, for research to underpin and advance clinical practice.  It's a powerful combination that will give patients the best chance of meaningful recovery in the years ahead."

Diego has one piece of advice for anyone who has just been diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury: "Never give up! I know you probably have never dreamed you would be in this situation, but the fact of reality is you are. You need to look at the bigger picture and understand that you are a patient and you need to recover and you will reach happiness again one day. Remember you are not alone there are people here to help you, they are here ready and waiting to help you, and they will give you everything you need to get you the best life and recovery possible. Always stay positive and keep this same positive attitude with you every day and don't forget as they keep telling me here at the Centre, in all things rehab consistency is the key."